Board of County Commission meeting: Items to watch and ‘Consent Agenda Creep’

 

Civic analyst and local attorney Virginia Sherlock provides important details on the upcoming Martin County Board of County Commission meeting, Tuesday, November 5: The Consent Agenda is chock-a-block full of matters that have no business being crammed into an Agenda that features a 1,600-page packet. Although a number of items have been withdrawn at the request of staff, far too many important matters remain on the agenda for public discussion as well as a couple of matters on the Consent Agenda that deserve public review.

 

Commissioners should make an effort to get control of the agenda before still more items are relegated to the Consent Agenda in order to shorten meetings. Here’s a thought: Why not have more meetings? (During the 52 weeks of 2013, only 31 BOCC meetings were scheduled.)

 

Consent Agenda Creep is afflicting recent agendas as more and more items that deserve public discussion and review are relegated to the silent zone. This is not to say that Consent Agenda items should not be approved. They should not, however, be placed on the Consent Agenda when there are issues of public interest that should be addressed, however briefly.

 

Commissioners sometimes get information and have discussions with staff to obtain additional information about various agenda items. It’s important for Commissioners to remember, however, that the public does not have access to information and discussions beyond what appears in the published agenda item. As Dr. Seuss put it: “I know up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.” (From Yertle the Turtle.)

 

On Tuesday’s Consent Agenda, two property owners are asking the BOCC to release unity of title agreements which were previously placed on their properties. It is fair to question why these agreements that were willingly entered into in the past are now no longer needed. In Consent Agenda Item 4.D.2., it appears the owner wants to sell all or part of a property encumbered by a unity of title (which prevents the property from being sold or transferred in pieces or smaller parcels but requires the property to be treated as a single unit of land). The staff report does not make this clear and does not explain how releasing the unity of title will affect neighboring properties (if at all). Consent Agenda Item 4.D.1 requests release of a unity of title on a commercial property because the owner wants to sell a portion of the previously unified parcel to an adjacent owner for expansion of the adjacent owner’s business. There’s no indication in the staff report whether selling off a portion of the commercial property (with an existing restaurant building) will create a problem in the future if the property is re-developed with less space for parking due to the elimination of the unity of title. Both of these requests may deserve approval, but both require more information to allow for a thoughtful decision to be made by the Commission.

 

Consent Agenda Item 4.B.2. asks the Commission to approve an employee position classification and pay plan for Fiscal Year 2014. There is no indication whether the new plan provides increases in employee pay ranges (which may well be in order, especially in light of the recent pay hike given to commissioners and County school board members).

 

The Consent Agenda also includes Item 4.C.1. seeking approval of an initial assessment which will cost SW 39th Street and SW 66th Avenue property owners about $1,050.00 per parcel for a paving project. Although this item is just the initial step in a process which will include public hearings on the final assessment, the public should be included in all stages of an assessment that places additional cost burdens on property owners.

 

Adoption of the second set of Comprehensive Plan Amendments is one of the most important items on the regular, non-consent Agenda as Items 6.A.-D.

 

Controversial matters include a presentation on the increasingly questionable Seven50 program (Item 8.E.1.), a request for approval of a final site plan for Martingale Commons infrastructure (Item 8.E.2.), two items involving the Business Development Board (Items 7.A. and 8.A.2.), revival of a proposal for a US Customs office at Witham Field (Item 8.G.1.), and an appeal of an administrative approval of a plan to put netting over community tennis courts (Item 8.C.1.).

 

Here are some items to watch:

 

– Items 6.A. through 6.D. seek adoption of the second set of Comprehensive Plan Amendments revising and restoring shoreline protection and open space and conservation provisions and eliminating the Business Development Board from the economic element and other chapters of the Comp Plan. Comp Plan Amendments 16-6, 13-7, 13-8 and 13-9 are all worthy of support and adoption by the BOCC.

 

– Item 7.A. is the presentation of the Annual Report of the Business Development Board to the County Commission. Although the report is supposed to identify “activities conducted and the funds expended” by the BDB in implementing the County’s comprehensive economic development strategy, staff has described the presentation as “an annual report reflecting [the BDB’s] achievements during the preceding year.” The BDB’s Annual Report is what Dr. Seuss had in mind when he wrote: “The words in this book are all phooey. When you say them, your lips will make slips and back flips and your tongue may end up in Saint Looey!” If you need to take a nap or walk the dog, this item is pre-set for 2:30 p.m.

 

– Item 8.A.1. is the request for approval of grants and matching funds that will cost more than $3.6 million, with $1.1 million from local “matching funds” financed by taxpayers. There are two paving projects, St. Lucie Inlet dredging and maintenance plans and pump-out boat operation costs. All are worthy projects, but they are extremely costly and tied to agency grant funding conditions that should get careful scrutiny.

 

– Item 8.A.2. is the staff’s update on the on-going and apparently never-ending negotiations with the BDB to replace the 2009 contract that the old BOCC majority approved. The County Commission and County Attorney’s Office have done a good job trying to re-work the deal, shortening the term to three years (instead of 10 years) and implementing recommendations made by the County’s auditor (adopt a conflict-of-interest policy for BDB Board members, obtain bonding for the BDB Executive Director, spell out specific deliverables to be met by the BDB in exchange for County funding, etc.). BDB negotiators and staff have also done a good job of drafting performance measures and policies to be followed by the BDB (including operating in the Sunshine and following County travel and travel expense standards).

 

Potential deal-breakers are (1) County Commissioners want to limit BDB’s public funding to the amount generated by local business taxes (about $250,000 a year) while the BDB wants County taxpayers to cough up an additional $180,000 a year for a total County commitment of at least $430,000 a year; and (2) County Commissioners want the BDB Board reduced to nine members, with no more than one to be a member of the Economic Council, while the BDB wants a 15-member Board with no restriction on Economic Council cross-overs. Hopefully, the Commission majority will stick to its guns on both funding and BDB Board membership. This item is pre-set for 10:30 a.m.

 

– Item 8.C.1. is a quasi-judicial hearing on an appeal by the Links at Palm Cove Condominium Association of an administrative decision to allow the Palm Cove Golf and Yacht Club to install a net over the Club’s tennis courts which is higher than the condominium buildings. This item is pre-set at 3:30 p.m.

 

– Item 8.D.3. asks the Commission to identify an organization to replace Martin County Audubon Society in appointing a representative to sit on the Land Acquisition Selection Committee that recommends properties to be purchased by the County for conservation. The LASC manual provides for members representing the Economic Council, Martin County Realtor Association, Treasure Coast Builders Association, Audubon of Martin County, Martin County Chapter of Florida Native Plant Society, and Environmental Studies Council. Audubon says it needs to direct its resources elsewhere and can no longer participate on LASC. The Commission might consider asking one or more of the following organizations to send a representative to sit on LASC: Martin County Conservation Alliance, the Rivers Coalition, the Indian Riverkeeper, the Guardians of Martin County, Treasured Lands Foundation.

 

– Item 8.E.1. is a status report on the Seven50 Plan, which is a questionable collection of regional representatives who are supposed to be designing a plan for growth and development by seven counties over 50 years. There is growing concern about the makeup of the Seven50 commission and the potential loss of local identity and local control that seems to be associated with continued affiliation with the organization. This item is pre-set for 9:30 a.m.

 

– Item 8.E.2. is a request for final site plan approval for Martingale Commons PUD which is clearly inconsistent with our Comprehensive Plan and should be denied until compliance is demonstrated. Martingale Commons is a commercial development on land designated as Expressway Oriented Transient Commercial Service Center (the last EOTCSC project of note was the Extreme Sports Water Ski Park) located at I-95 and SW Martin Highway – outside the Urban Services Boundary. EOTCSC developments are NOT free-standing urban service areas (as the staff report mistakenly says) but are exempt from certain requirements regarding development outside the USB.

 

EOTCSC projects must be carefully scrutinized because of impacts to the river (since public utilities are not available) and the USB. This project proposes a package plant for wastewater treatment but fails to provide the required assurance that funding will be available to maintain a high-quality, costly-to-operate package plant. The developer must “successfully demonstrate that the urban services needed . . . . will be fully funded by the development.” But Martingale Commons says only that lot owners will finance the package plant in the future. Decades ago, Martin County began encouraging removal of existing package plants because of documented failures and the resulting impacts on the Indian River Lagoon. Failure to insist on strict compliance with the Comp Plan’s requirements regarding package plants outside the USB will will have ripple effects (other interchanges, other corners of this interchange, and other commercial proposal outside the urban boundary) and establish precedents that threaten unraveling of the Urban Boundary (the heart of the Comp Plan) and undermining of River Protections that are critical to our quality of life and our economy.

 

Finally, Agenda Item 8.G.1. is a report on the proposed U.S. Customs project at Witham Field that appears to be simply another effort by the Economic Council (the initial proponent of the facility) and airport FBOs to bombard the Commission with pleas to move forward with the project despite obvious cost overruns and faulty revenue projections. Earlier this year, the Commission majority was poised to deny further efforts to construct the Customs Office when the bids came in at almost double the projected cost and even the proponents had to acknowledge almost no likelihood of generating sufficient revenue to maintain operations. Supporters were given 90 days to come up with assurances that Martin County taxpayers won’t get stuck with the tab for operating this boondoggle and to provide documentation and verifiable support for the projections and promises that are being made about the project’s fiscal viability. Those who stand to benefit the most – the airport FBOs – are unwilling to promise to pay cost shortfalls. The Commission should reject this project once and for all. This item is pre-set for 1:30 p.m.

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